chapter  3
30 Pages

Overviewof Sexual Practices andAttitudesWithinRelationalContexts

ByMarion C. Willetts, Susan Sprecher, Frank D. Beck

This chapterpresentswhat is currentlyknownabout adolescents’ andadults’ attitudes andbehaviorswith regard to sexualitywithin a relational context.We summarizefindings primarily from U.S. national data sets, such as the National Health and Social Life Survey and the General Social Survey. We also highlight relevant findings from smaller scale studies that are unique in some way (e.g., cohort, longitudinal data). The findings across studies suggest that most adults, regardless of age, race, social class, and gender, engage in sexual behavior within relational contexts and approve of sex in committed relationships. However, there is variation across various sociodemographic aggregates in terms of how acceptable and likely sex is in a partnership that is in the initial stage of development. In addition, there is variation in the number of relational (sexual) partners Americans have over a specific span of time (e.g., 5 years) and the particular sexual practices inwhich they engage.Wediscuss trends and variations in sexual attitudes and practices of Americans and focus on the following types of sexuality: (a) adolescent and young adulthood sexuality in relational contexts, (b) adult sexual behavior within primary partnerships, and (c) extramarital and extradyadic sex. Within each of these sections, we provide descriptive data on current patterns, discuss (where possible) longitudinal trends, highlight any differences based on sociodemographic aggregates, and (where available) compare U.S. trends to those in other countries. We conclude by offering suggestions for future research directions.